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Hifa pressed to rope in more local artists

Itai Mushekwe

ZIMBABWE’S premier arts and culture event, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), is set for a major shift that will see more loc

al artists participating at the fiesta.

Hifa opened with a scintillating concert featuring a sheaf of local and international artists on Tuesday.

Arguably one of Africa’s leading arts and cultural festivals, Hifa has been criticised as being “eurocentric” and “elitist” for casting Zimbabwe’s own artists to the fringes of the popular event to pave the way for already established international artists.

However, Hifa founder and artistic director Manuel Bagorro told IndepenentXtra on the sidelines of Tuesday’s press conference that next year the festival would direct its energies towards bringing on board as many local artists as possible so as to harness their talents as they share experiences with their counterparts from overseas.

“There is a concerted emphasis on Zimbabwe programming next year, just like we have done for this year’s festival,” said Bagorro.

He added that Hifa would continue producing “a great calendar that celebrates the vibrancy of our nation through arts and cultural diversity”.

Swedish ambassador to Zimbabwe Sten Rylander, whose embassy supported the participation of most local artists at this year’s edition of Hifa through the Swedish International Development Agency, also called on Hifa organisers to accommodate more domestic artists.

“My embassy has chosen to support the participation of local artists at this year’s Hifa,” said Rylander. “The reasons for this are three-pronged. The first represents Sweden’s commitment to uplifting local artists. The second is that during hard times in many countries, culture has represented hope for the future and a major source of livelihood.”

He said the third reason for Sweden’s involvement is its commitment to culture under the auspices of the restructured Zimbabwe Culture Fund Trust set to be launched soon.

Rylander added that culture should not be a “privilege for people with money”, but should reach out to people who cannot afford to pay.

Independent arts and media commentator, Sizwe Thuthuka, said it is important for local artists to take centre-stage at Hifa as the festival is supposed to benefit Zimbabwe by virtue of being the host.

“Hifa has done extremely well in marketing international artists to the region,” Thuthuka said. “This suggests a form of cultural imperialism that should be matched by efforts to promote local art through pairing international performances with local ones.

“Advocacy efforts should be made to encourage governments in the region to allocate more funds to culture. Ordinarily, Zimbabwe as host should benefit the most.”

He added: “But issues of culture are linked to human rights and governance. A malfunctioning part affects the whole, which is why there is government apathy even when the event presents opportunities that could be exploited to benefit the country.”

Visiting Ugandan-American actor and photographer Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, who presented the acclaimed theatrical piece Biro yesterday, said Hifa should blend both local and foreign artists so as to come up with the “best mix”.

“I want to see a rich festival and artists coming not only from Harare but from all over the country and the continent,” he said.

Mwine’s play touches on the HIV and Aids pandemic and the struggle for democracy affecting most African nations. The play shows again tomorrow at the Standard Theatre.

Also adding to calls for local participation at Hifa was Gudula Mueller Towe, a German artist based in Zimbabwe.

Towe, the director and producer of the play The Frog Queen showing this evening at the AON Zimbabwe Theatre, said the amalgamation of local and international artists “is the way for Zimbabwe because there is little input coming from foreign artists”.

“I’m completely convinced that this is a fantastic idea, which is what I’m working on,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hifa has reached boiling point as an array of artists in various genres will be dishing out their best as the festival draws to a close on Sunday.

Pianist Ian Gaukroger, based in the Netherlands, is gracing the AON Zimbabwe Recital Room this afternoon, while South African musical wonder Tony Cox will perform at the Global stage later today.

Chiwoniso Maraire and her troupé under the musical collaboration of Hupenyu Kumusha are expected to do justice to local music tomorrow when they invade the Caltex Main stage before star attraction, Benin-born R&B/jazz sensation Angelique Kidjo, adds extra adrenalin on the same stage later in the evening.

Jazz fanatics can wind up the festival by attending the Township Jazz at the Caltex Main Stage. The musical treat features among other musicians Dudu Manhenga, the Cool Crooners and the Mbare Trio.

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